It is my privilege to be a member of author Cathy West’s street team. I am currently reading—and loving—her newest novel, The Things We Knew. Cathy graciously agreed to visit with us today.
Thanks so much for coming by, Cathy. First off, what inspired you to write The Things We Knew?
CW: I love big family dramas and knew that was something I wanted to do. I don’t know now how the exact story came about; the first version was written about five years ago! Generally, I end up writing the type of story I like to read.
This story is set in Nantucket. Why did you choose this location?
CW: Living on an island myself, I thought I would enjoy using that kind of setting for a book. Turns out the setting ended up playing an even bigger part than I’d imagined, as the weather, the state of the house, everything sort of fell into place to contribute to the overall strength of the story. I also liked that Nantucket is fairly small. So it was easy to research without actually having been there.
I once heard an author say he was the main character in every one of his stories. Do you identify with the protagonist, Lynette? In what ways?
CW: I think Lynette is on a journey to really find her best self. She must step out from her “little sister” role and take on some pretty heavy responsibilities. Yet her siblings don’t seem to have a whole lot of faith in her. While I grew up an only child, I suppose I can identify in the sense of the “having to prove yourself” because I’d say that definitely parallels my writing journey!
You don’t shy away from the hard topics: the Vietnam war, adoption, abuse, and now, memory loss. What motivates you to tackle these subjects?
CW: I’m not sure I sit down with a specific plan in mind about a particular subject. Sometimes it just happens that one of my characters is dealing with something. I’m never sure at the beginning of a book what will happen until it starts to take shape in my head. I always ask, “Why are they the way they are?” And the answers never cease to surprise. I believe a good story should be firmly rooted in reality, and unfortunately, the real world is full of things that challenge, hurt and change us as we learn to deal with them. I think you get the most character growth through difficult times.
What do you find most enjoyable about the writing process? And the least enjoyable?
CW: I love it when a new story starts to take shape. Halfway through the book, I don’t love it quite so much! LOL. The middle is always tricky, but I think that can be said for most authors. I love it when I hit the zone and everything just flows with little effort. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen every day!
The least enjoyable? Probably the editing process. It’s actually really hard work because that’s the point when you know once you’re through with it, the book is done. It’s really the point of no return. I am continually second guessing myself and eventually just have to trust that I’ve done my best. I’m fortunate to work with wonderful editors who make it easy. Somewhat. And really it’s the reading and re-reading that exhausts me the most. Even then, after it’s been read over several times, I can find an error or a sentence I want to change!
Would you share one of your favorite (non-spoiler) portions of The Things We Knew?
CW: Oh, sure! Well, I actually adore the character of Cecily. She’s been the housekeeper, child-minder and anchor really for the Carlisle family since before Lynette was born. This is a fun flashback scene from when the kids were little:
“Lynnie, child, ain’t no reason to cry now. You’re safe and sound.”
Lynette choked back a sob and buried her head in Cecily’s ample chest, comforted by the smell of fresh baked bread and talcum powder.
“I hate those boys. They chased me and scared me and made me fall down.”
“I know, baby.” Cecily shifted from her cross-legged position on the floor and peeked under the wet paper towel she held over Lynette’s scraped knee. “Looks like it’s all better, see? No more blood.”
Lynette scrunched her nose and studied the throbbing red spot, gave a little shiver, and then shrieked as the boys burst into the living room, whooping and hollering, racing around her, dirt and sand smeared across suntanned chests. Their game of cops and robbers was a favorite, but she always had to be the robber, and they always caught her.
“Go away!” she yelled, burrowing her face again, grateful for Cecily’s warmth and the comforting arms that came around her.
“Hush, now.” Her parents’ friends called Cecily the housekeeper, but to Lynette and the rest of them, she was family.
Her parents’ friends called Cecily the housekeeper, but to Lynette and the rest of them, she was family.
“Baby, baby, Lynnie’s just a baby!” Gray ran circles around them, Ryan hot on his heels, waving the long piece of rope he’d picked up on the beach that they’d threatened to tie her up with.
“Boys, that’s enough!” Cecily used her I-mean-business voice. “Ryan, you throw that dirty thing outside right now. Y’all are soaking wet too.”
“Storm’s coming.” Ryan tossed the rope out the open French doors and shook his head, drops of water flying as he flopped down beside them, propped on his elbows. Lynette chanced a look at her brother and tried to stop her sniffles. “Sorry, Shortstop,” he said. “Sometimes I forget you’re only six and can’t keep up.”
“I’m almost seven.”
“Almost.” Gray hung over Cecily’s shoulders and wiggled his fingers in Lynette’s face.
“Stop it, Gray!” She swatted them away and Cecily hushed her again.
“Shoo, you gonna get sand all over me, Grayson!” Cecily scolded.
Gray just laughed. He always laughed when he got in trouble. Getting in trouble was a bad thing. Lynette didn’t know why he thought it wasn’t.
“Where’s Mom?” Gray rolled off Cecily and onto the rug, sticking his scrawny legs high in the air. “She better get back soon or she’ll get stuck out in the storm.”
Thunder crashed overhead and they all jumped. Fear pulled tight, and Lynette swiveled to look into Cecily’s dark eyes. “Ce-ce? Where’d she go?”
Cecily shook her head, smiled, and cupped her hands warm around Lynette’s cheeks. “Child, you worry too much. Anyone ever tell you that? Your mama knows that beach better than her own face. And God’s looking after her. She’ll be back soon now. Don’t invite trouble in ’til you have to.”
“Yoo-hoo! Darlings, I’m home!” The front door slammed and their mother’s voice sang through the hallway.
Cecily laughed and kissed the top of Lynette’s head. “See there? Now what I tell you?”
Thanks again for stopping by, Cathy. The Things We Knew is available to pre-order.
Award-winning author Catherine West writes stories of hope and healing from her island home in Bermuda. When she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border Collie for long walks or reading books by her favorite authors. She and her husband have two grown children. Catherine’s novel, Bridge of Faith, won the 2015 Grace Award. Her new novel, The Things We Knew, releases July 12, 2016, through Harper Collins Christian Publishing.
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